2
Dec
2010
Community: Season 2, Episode 10
Mixology Certification
Jordan
Its getting to the point where my praise of season two of Community is becoming overkill. I recognize the heaps of credit I throw at the show every week, and yet, it just keeps showing me why it deserves all of the wonderful things I can say about it. A lot of the negative criticism I read about Community (it exists, oddly enough) derides the show for its over reliance on parody and pop culture references, and while I think the show continuously avoids doing too much of that, its a potentially valid criticism. As I've said before, if the show was to go off the wheels right now, I think that would present itself as a long string of parody episodes with no character development or heart in between. "Mixology Certification" drops a lot of the things the show is known for, from its pop culture references, to its subplots, and even its setting. This week, the gang leaves pretty much everything we think when we think about Community behind, and in so doing, turns in one of the best episodes in the show's history.

This week, its Troy's birthday (which Abed's Robocop vision foreshadowed in "Aerodynamics of Gender"), yet since Troy is a Jehovah's witness (in a nice bit of the show recalling its continuity) his celebration is wondrously vague, full of almost birthday rituals so that Troy can celebrate without violating his faith. Troy very quickly realizes that he is in fact celebrating his 21st birthday, not his twentieth ("Everyone is ten for two years because fifth grade is really hard...Mom how many lies have I been living?") and so Jeff and Britta, being that they are Jeff and Britta require Troy to go out celebrating. After fighting about whether to go to Jeff's "cool" bar L Street or Britta's "hipster" bar The Red Door, they compromise and take Troy to The Ballroom, one of those bars that has an ironically fancy name or is a double entendre. Seeing as Annie is 19 (yeah, ok Allison Brie) and doesn't want to get left behind, Britta grabs her a fake ID and she becomes Caroline Decker from Corpus Christi, Texas for the remainder of the evening.

Annie seems as good a place as any to start, since her storyline takes off right from there. Being that she is as insanely anal as usual, she begins to research Corpus Christi immediately and starts working on her southern accent to make sure she's authentic. Because she's a hot girl, her ID isn't even checked (and there's a nice moment there when Britta's is) this is immediately shown to be just Annie being a ridiculous worry wort, which is totally in character, but she doesn't stop there. She invents an entire persona for herself as the exact opposite of Annie. Caroline is a drifting adventurer who doesn't plan her life out meticulously, follows Phish around not because she likes the music but because she wants to see if she can live in parking lots, and, actually, will have a Screwdriver thank you very much. Its all pretty much a standard "uptight girl pretends to walk on the wild side" plotline until it finally reaches its apex in probably the best moment of the episode when Troy walks Annie to her door and she breaks down, admitting that she pretended to be Caroline because she has no idea who she is besides a ball of anxiety and a drive to overachieve that plagues her mostly because she doesn't know what else to do with herself. Troy's monologue about what Annie means to him, and who she is in his eyes, is exactly the type of moment Community at its best can pull off, and the fact that it stayed platonic instead of playing into the long dead Troy-Annie tension (which I was never a huge fan of. We all know where I hope Annie ends up) made it even better. Troy wasn't saying those things to win Annie's heart. He was just speaking from his own about the individuality of a girl who has come to mean a lot to him in the last year.

Moving down the bar a bit to Abed, whose story is maybe the saddest in a surprisingly depressing episode of the show. Abed moves away from the group to play Asteroids and is approached by Paul F. Tompkins, who picks him up by quoting Last Starfighter and Farscape and offers to buy Abed a drink. Abed picks up on the fact that the guy is hitting on him, but ignores all of the hints anyway because he just likes talking about Farscape. Its a very minor part of the episode, and yet it speaks volumes about just how lonely Abed's life can be. Danny Pudi played the plotline wonderfully, subtly hinting at just how long its been since Abed has been able to have a good talk about Farscape with anyone, and acknowledging that he is willing to let a man hit on him if only someone will talk with him about pop culture for a little while. Abed returns to the group by the end of the story, and its the place he has found the most acceptance at this point in his life. Yet even there, where he is happiest, he is often ignored, as he is near the episode's end by Jeff and Britta.

One of the best things about season two so far has been the show's efforts to deepen Shirley as a character. For much of season one, she was pretty much a quiet, nice Christian lady who had fallen in with this wild study group and only seemed to hint occasionally at the sadness in her life, which she had seemingly overcome with the power of Jesus Christ, her lord and savior. But second chances aren't that easy on Community and we have learned a lot this season about the deep seated anger Shirley carries around with her. We have seen her go to bat for the thing the thing that saved her from the darkness with vehemence earlier this season in "Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples" and we have watched her be shaken by a pregnancy scare (which we may not have heard the last of), but tonight we get a larger hint about the type of person Shirley was before she began seeking that second chance: a lonely, depressed divorcee who just needed to drown her sorrows at The Ballroom, and who found herself in a drunken stupor there so many times the place is littered with pictures of her, including a few cautionary posters in the restrooms and on the back of the door. She begins the episode trying to remove all of them, trying to wipe away her past entirely, and when the gang finds one (of course they do), they all find this aspect of Shirley humorous and are ready to joke about it. They don't even seem to be denigrating Shirley here. No one is trying to take her righteous, holier than thou attitude down a notch in the scene. Instead, they just seem prepared to laugh about it with her, because who hasn't been there? But Shirley isn't ready to laugh about it, and instead storms out of the bar, hurt that this part of her old life is invading her attempts at constructing a new one.

On her way out of the door she runs into Pierce, who has easily the slightest story this week, but one that delivers plenty of laughs and a whole lot of sadness at the same time. Pierce is a stubborn jackass of a man who refuses to ask for help regardless of what happens to him. He refuses to ask for anyone's help getting to The Ballroom, and when he finally makes it there, he refuses to let the doorman help him inside, even when he hysterically cannot maneuver inside, and even when the battery on his wheelchair dies. And so Pierce is left alone, much like he has been by his family and most of the people in his life. His pigheaded independence leaves him stranded again, until he caves and asks Shirley for help. Once again, the group provides the support these characters need to grow beyond the flaws that have trapped them at Greendale, all trying to build new lives for themselves and atone for their past mistakes.

Speaking of mistakes, Jeff and Britta make one tonight, ending up in each others arms in the back of Jeff's car and pretty much on top of Abed. Hooking these two up is played mostly for laughs, and anyone on board the Jeff and Britta ship probably jumped for joy, but I think there was something deeper and much, much more wonderful going on tonight. In its first season, Community treated Britta as Jeff's main love interest, and in the early portion of the series, she was set up to be his redeemer. Basically, it seemed at first, Britta was the character who would make Jeff "want to be a better man" in order to earn her love (that was an As Good As It Gets reference, yes, but this can also be seen all over film and television, most recently on the failed show Running Wilde). Fortunately, the show has decided to take a much more daring path with these two, documenting them as they circle each other in an endless game of mutual loathing that doesn't quite cover their basic attraction and grudging affection for each other as well as they think.

This actually makes Jeff and Britta a better potential couple than the other storyline ever would have (setting Britta up as the saint Jeff had to improve to win over would have been much more boring and conventional), but I don't think the show is aiming in that direction. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine pointed out that while she agreed with my Jeff-Annie ardor, she also thought that Troy and Britta would make a cute couple. I responded at the time that I thought the pairing was interesting, but I wasn't exactly sure if it would work. I was dead wrong. There are two moments tonight, buried under layers of storyline, that show the obvious potential of the Britta and Troy pairing, though they both come from Troy (whose journey we will address in a moment). First, when Britta leaves her sparring match with Jeff to use the restroom, he sighs and wearily says "that woman is a hurricane," a nice moment for him, which acknowledges the world-weary wonder with which he greets Britta daily, but Troy's response is really the key. His eyes light up as he quietly says, "I know." Troy agrees with Jeff's assessment on the surface, but where Jeff sees Britta as a storm he has to weather constantly, Troy sees her as a potential adventure. Later, when Abed reveals Jeff and Britta have been making out, Troy looks clearly hurt. Its a small moment, but I doubt its the last of the Troy and Britta storyline.

And now, last but not least, I will turn this absurdly long review towards Troy, the man unquestionably at the center of the episode, both thematically and actually. Troy spends this episode preparing to become "a man" as he takes advice from Britta and Jeff about how to be a cool drinker and waits diligently until midnight to order his first drink. I need to step away from hi actual journey this episode for a moment to point out how Troy, like Shirley, has been shockingly deepened this season. He has always been the goofy, nerdy, kind of dumb guy in the group, but this season has seen him grow into something of a hero for these people, the glue that holds the gang together when everyone else's burdens have become too much. When zombies attacked the school, Troy was the man who sacrificed himself to save everyone. When the loss of Annie's pen threatened to tear the gang apart, it was Troy's ghost story that kept them all together. And tonight, when the dangers of over-intoxication felled everyone else, Troy stepped up to the plate and took care of everyone, even driving Jeff's car in the process. Tonight, Troy abandons the traditional idea of a 21st birthday to rescue his friends from themselves. He is the first one to see that Shirley is truly upset by the jokes. He is the one who talks Annie out of her spiral, and drags Jeff, Abed, and Britta out of the bar when things have gone too far. He is the one who gets to drive Jeff's car tonight (and make no mistake that Jeff is seen as the show's traditional patriarch), and when he finally gets to order his first drink (though he doesn't get to taste it), he ignores all of the advice of Jeff and Britta and just gets what he wants.

I have never seen a show capture the melancholy of a drunken night with friends turned sour as well as Community does tonight. Honestly, I'm not sure I've ever even seen a show try. I often tell those who ask that I have no idea how much I like an episode of a show, or what grade I'll give it, until I've written the whole review. I knew I liked "Mixology Certification" from the moment it ended, but I didn't realize how much I really loved it until I wrote perhaps the longest review ever about it. This is truly one of the best episodes of Community ever. Maybe even its very best so far. Its an episode that cuts away all that is recognizable about an episode of this show, and yet comes out with a microcosm of everything this show is about. This is an episode, like this is a show, about a bunch of sad, sort of ruined people who have dead ended in their lives and come to Greendale Community College for a second chance to rebuild themselves, and have found in each other the love and support they need to do it. I love this show. I love this episode. I can't wait for next week.

Grade: A

Notes:

-"To you!" "Why did we only sing the last two words?"

-Nice KickPuncher callback.

-"They serve virgin mudslides." "Those are milkshakes, Shirley!" Good joke, that becomes something much more by the episode's end.

-"Annie, don;t accept any drinks." "Or invitations to the bathroom." I love when Jeff and Britta function as parents for the group.

-"I'm Caroline. Grew up on a trout farm, doodlee doo..."

-"You'd like that. A little turning of the tables." "What tables?" "I don't know. Leave me alone!"

-"I can't wait to understand these arguments!"

-"Plans just fall off me like chicken crap off an armadillo."

-"Alcohol makes people sad. Its like the Lifetime movies of beverages."
Tags: Community
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